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SDSU President Talks Budget Cuts, Future Goals

President Stephen L. Weber, the seventh president of San Diego State University.
Courtesy of the Office of President Weber
President Stephen L. Weber, the seventh president of San Diego State University.
SDSU President Talks Budget Cuts, Future Goals
How can state colleges and universities continue to provide a quality education in the midst of growing state budget cuts? SDSU President Stephen Weber joins us in-studio to talk about the budget cuts, his goals for the future, and SDSU Month.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. San Diego campuses have been in the news recently. UCSD is still coping from the aftermath of the racially-offensive ‘Compton Cookout,’ an off-campus party hosted by UCSD students. And last week, at San Diego State University and other campuses across the state, students and faculty members called a ‘Day of Action’ to protest state education budget cuts with rallies and speeches. It's with this backdrop that San Diego State University is hosting its annual SDSU Month, with events showcasing the school's achievements and goals. Joining us now to talk about what’s been in the news and what’s going on during SDSU Month is my guest, San Diego State University President Stephen Weber. And, President Weber, welcome, again, to These Days.

STEPHEN WEBER (President, San Diego State University): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Just a note of disclosure, the KPBS Studios are located on the SDSU campus. And we’d like to invite our audience to join the conversation. If you have a question for President Weber about admissions, budget cuts or other SDSU policies, give us a call with your questions and comments. That’s 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, as I said, there were protests at colleges and universities, including SDSU, throughout the state last week to voice opposition to fee increases and budget cuts. President Weber, I’d like you to respond to those students and their concerns.


WEBER: Well, first of all, those are very legitimate concerns and all Californians ought to share those concerns. When we begin to ration education, we’re rationing opportunity and that opportunity is the future prosperity of our state, not only of the individuals in question but our state in general. One of the things that, I think, many Californians don’t realize is the California State University system last year was cut by $571 million, so more than a half a billion dollars, and that has forced us, in turn, to reduce our enrollments. So we are very much supportive of the students and their concerns. We think those are concerns, not just about their own circumstances but about the future of our state.

CAVANAUGH: What kinds of fee increases and funding cuts have SDSU students had to deal with over the last couple of years?

WEBER: Well, first of all, they’ve had fee increases every year for, I think, the past four or five years. But to put that in a little bit of context, two years ago the state reduced San Diego State’s budget—I’ll just talk about our campus—by $18 million and student fees were increased by $6 million. So when the students say they are paying more for less, this is literally true. Last year it was much worse; the state reduced our funding by $55 million, student fees went up by a third. That brought in $20 million to offset the $55 million loss but that’s still a $35 million hole on top of last year’s – the prior year’s $12 million hole.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, so that’s something. So how have fee increases raised to try to cover that?

WEBER: I’m not sure I understand your question.


CAVANAUGH: I’m sorry. How do – student fees gone up to try to cover that?

WEBER: Well, the student fees have gone up in response to that but they have not adequately covered it.

CAVANAUGH: Right, okay.

WEBER: There’s no way you can. And that’s why we’ve been, as a system, in the difficult circumstance of being forced to reduce our enrollment. We’re reducing our enrollment by 40,000 students over two years in the CSU system. At San Diego State, we’re reducing it by 4,660 students over a two year period, and that’s just literally bad news for everyone, not just for these students.

CAVANAUGH: Now last Friday Governor Schwarzenegger had a meeting with state education leaders and he once again called for a Constitutional amendment that would make it impossible for California to spend more on prisons than it does on higher education, the same thing he said during the State of the State address. What do you think of that approach?

WEBER: I like that approach a lot. But it’s more than just the issue of – As an educator I’d like to see money going into education. I think the ultimate security of our state is a function of the prosperity of its people and that, in turn, is a function of education. So, really, the best way to provide for a secure society is to provide for all the members of that society, which is again why it is shameful that we are now in the position of rationing educational opportunity to the citizens of California.

CAVANAUGH: Do you think there is much of a chance that a Constitutional amendment like that would actually be approved?

WEBER: I’m not in a position to know.


WEBER: I’m a philosopher, not a legal scientist.

CAVANAUGH: Fair enough. I’m speaking with San Diego State University President Stephen Weber. Let me talk about how – what SDSU is doing, though, to try to cover some of those gaps in the budget. I know that SDSU is making fundraising a priority in response to these cuts. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

WEBER: Yes. We have been working on fundraising for a long time. It’s sort of the third leg of the stool that keeps higher education solvent so part of it is the tuition and fees and state support from the State of California. Another large part of it is the resources generated through faculty research. Last year, our faculty brought in more money in research than they did in tuition, so this is a major source of funding for the university and its operations. And the third leg of that stool is fundraising, so for the last 15 years, we’ve worked very hard on fundraising. When I came, we were earning about $18 million a year. Last year, we brought in $65 million. We have – in the last ten years, we’ve brought in two and a half times as much money as in the prior 113 years. And we’re very, very grateful to the friends and supporters of San Diego State for those donations because at the end of the day, they’re helping preserve the excellence of our university in the face of some very difficult budgetary circumstances.

CAVANAUGH: And, if I may, back to those difficult budgetary circumstances, SDSU has been criticized by – for its new admission policy. That new admission policy is apparently reducing by one-third the number of local high school graduates that will be admitted next year. First of all, can you explain how and why the university changed its admission policy?

WEBER: Well, yes. In fact, we’ve already set the context for that because with the declining state budgets, we made a decision to—we as the system made a decision to reduce our enrollments overall because it would be an educational fraud to bring these students into the university and have no courses for them. So we said we just can’t do that. At San Diego State, as I said, that was a reduction of 4,660 students over two years. So to do that, we’ve always been, in recent years, we’ve always been controlling our enrollment but for the non-local students as opposed to the local students. To give you a sense of that, last year we turned away 23,000 eligible students, that is – and eligibility is determined by the legislature and an organization called CPEC. 23,000 eligible students we were forced to turn away. This year, we’re forced to turn away 24,000 eligible students but for the first time some of the students we turn away will be local students who are eligible.

CAVANAUGH: Right. And the – How do you respond to critics who say that the university should actually – their commitment should be towards admitting those local students.

WEBER: Well, certainly if the funds were there, we would be delighted to be able to admit local students but at the end of the day, virtually no universities in the country admit students by zip code. They admit students based on how well prepared they are to succeed. The students we – And what – I don’t mean to fill your airwaves with numbers but admission is by what’s called a Freshman Eligibility Index and the minimum score is 2900. The people that are in that bottom score have a graduation rate of 26.5% but the out-of-service-area students, their bottom score is about 3900 and they have a graduation rate of over two-thirds. So if you’re forced – I mean, I can’t imagine anybody that wouldn’t rather have the funds with which to admit and educate any student that was interested, but if you’re forced to, at some point you have to place your bet on the students who are likely to succeed and that’s what we’ve done.

CAVANAUGH: Now I read that the number of students, the number of local students that have been basically cut and not been able to be admitted to SDSU is sort of made up on the back end by the number of transfer students from community colleges back to SDSU, is that…

WEBER: Well, I…

CAVANAUGH: …a balance there?

WEBER: Well, it’s not a balance but it’s true. So let me just say what – Our historic average in the last 11 years that we’ve managed enrollment was that 37% of our freshmen were local freshmen. We tried to say we’ll maintain that proportion. In fact, now that we’ve done the admissions, we’re at 42% so we went up from the 37%. On the transfer side, the historic average has been about two-thirds have been local. Obviously, these are more local students and so that’s not surprising. But for next year, there’ll be 90% local. The one is not a function of balancing the other, it’s that our primary obligation with regard to transfer students is to – our first obligation is to live up to what’s called a Transfer Admission Guarantee, TAG Agreement. And in order to honor those agreements with our local community college students and give them first shot, by the time we had done that, there was so few spaces left that they amounted to 90% of the enrollments.

CAVANAUGH: Now I know, President Weber, that there’s still the idea of getting some sort of geographical diversity at SDSU and that’s one of the reasons that the admission changes have changed the way they have. I wonder, what effect will these changes have on the demographics of the student population?

WEBER: Well, the demographics, we’re still a very, very diverse student body. 52% of our new admits will be students of color. That’s the second most diverse class we’ve admitted in the last 11 years. So in that sense of demographics, we’ll be among our most diverse classes. It is always, though – as an educator, you want to find lots and lots of educational opportunities to interact with people that are other than yourself. So we like to have people that are not only of different racial and ethnic backgrounds but different religious backgrounds, different economic backgrounds. All those things play into it as do different geographic backgrounds. So we will now be losing students. Most of the students we’ll turn away, of course, will be those non-local students still. In order to enroll the local students, we actually gave them extra points so that they could compete with the non-local students.

CAVANAUGH: I’m just wondering, my final question about this new admissions policy, President Weber, there’s been criticism that it hits minority students really pretty hard and that if, indeed, they’re not accepted the way they used to be at SDSU, they really will not take advantage of higher education. Is there anything SDSU can do to outreach to those students that perhaps have not been admitted but to perhaps keep them on the radar for future admissions?

WEBER: Well, first of all, the answer is yes. We have offered to all the students that would have been admitted otherwise, we have offered them a chance for a special guaranteed admission. They can go to a local community college and for the next three years we will honor their transfer, when they complete their work at the community college, to San Diego State and we will honor it under the provisions of this fall’s catalog that they would’ve come in under had they been freshmen. But let me speak more broadly. There are lots of things we can, and do, do with regard to the diversity of our student body. We spend about $9 million a year on outreach and that outreach is to low income communities particularly in our region and somewhat in L.A. Your listeners have heard, I think many of them, about Compact for Success, which we do with the Sweetwater School District. That’s doubled the enrollments from low income, highly diverse school district. The largest and most diverse secondary school district in the state of California are collaborative in – City Heights enrolls 5,000 students in three schools. EOP is the Educational Opportunity Program. In the state of California, there’s a EOP program at every campus in the CSU for – these are designed for low income students. The largest one in the state of California is at San Diego State University, enrolling more than 4,000. Even though we’ve reduced our enrollment this year, we increased the enrollment of EOP by almost 12% and we will increase it again next year. So these are all proactive ways, and I should add also we put together a Diversity Yield Task Force. When you admit students to the campus, it doesn’t follow that they’re going to come to the campus because presumably they’ve applied to more than one university and been admitted by more than one university, particularly these students have because these are very bright, capable students. So we’re following up and trying particularly to reach out to low income students to urge them to take advantage of their admission to San Diego State and to come to our campus.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with SDSU President Stephen Weber. And we have to take a short break. When we return, talk a little bit more about diversity on campus and about SDSU Month. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is San Diego State University President Stephen Weber, and we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s go right to the phones and take a call from Jean in San Diego. Good morning, Jean. Welcome to These Days.

JEAN (Caller, San Diego): Hi, Maureen.


JEAN: I wanted to ask President Weber a question?


JEAN: Should I just do it now?

CAVANAUGH: Just – Yes, you should do it just now.

JEAN: Okay, President Weber, in light of the racial tension at UCSD, what is the state of diversity at San – SDSU?

WEBER: We’re about 45% of our student body is made up of students of color. In the last – I can speak for the last 12 years, about a third of the tenure track hires that we’ve made have been faculty of color. That’s almost twice the national availability of the pool, so we’ve worked very hard on that, and about half of those hires have been women.

CAVANAUGH: I’d like to get your reaction to the Compton Cookout problem over at UCSD, and I want to make sure I say this clearly. This was an off-campus, racially offensive party that took place. And I’m wondering, what was your general reaction to that whole story?

WEBER: Well, the honest reaction is this could’ve happened anywhere and it could’ve happened at San Diego State. There’s no way to inoculate a campus against foolish behavior by some individuals. But, of course, it was terribly destructive, terribly insensitive, and fundamentally ignorant. But I want to be clear, those strains of insensitivity and ignorance are loose in our society in general and not limited to any of the organizations, including universities.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, though, are any precautions being taken by SDSU and/or any idea how to…

WEBER: Well…

CAVANAUGH: …handle provocative off-campus publications like the Koala?

WEBER: …the best precaution is to have a racially diverse campus in the first place. And at the end of the day, there are lots of legitimate issues which lead us to believe that the diversity of the campus is an important part of its capacity to educate. We have no majority racial group at San Diego State. And our community in general is a very diverse community. As we look for – look to develop leaders for the 21st century, they have to know how to function within a diverse society, and it’s exceedingly important that we provide some of that diversity in the university setting. Remember that whatever the racial group is, it tends to associate with itself and so in families and friends and organizations that you might have been a part of before the university, before you came to the university, you might not have experienced very many different cultures. That’s part of a university education, to be exposed to those cultures and to learn to appreciate them.

CAVANAUGH: And I’m wondering, the part of the crackdown at UCSD, part of the criticism, was a clampdown on some student newspapers and programs, TV programs. I wonder, do you keep an eye on what – on these off-campus newspapers and so forth, the student-run organizations at SDSU. Would there be any idea of monitoring those?

WEBER: Well, this is a very deep issue within our society. Long, long ago, we said that American citizens had a right to free speech and a right to free assembly. That’s often exceedingly inconvenient for the rest of us but there’s a great wisdom in that recognition that we want individuals to have those rights. So from my point of view, the issue is if we can succeed as educators in helping them understand how to use those rights in a constructive and supportive way, that’s fine. Now, in any society there will be some individuals who don’t wish to be constructive and who relish the opportunity to be provocative. For a long time this country has said that’s a price we pay for the rest of us having the opportunity to express our points of view.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Vivian is calling from Imperial County. Good morning, Vivian. Welcome to These Days.

VIVIAN (Caller, Imperial County): Good morning. Good morning, Mr. Weber or President Weber, this is Vivian Perez.


VIVIAN: You mentioned a statement that you spend $9 million in outreach to reach, obviously, the minority.


VIVIAN: Can you tell me how much of that or do you have a separate amount allocated to reach minorities in Imperial County? And if you do, if you do have an allocated amount, how is this being implemented because I don’t seem to see any outreach as I do with other private institutions.

WEBER: Well, the way in which we do those – that outreach is largely through schools. We send people out into the schools. We do tutorial programs in the schools. We work, as I said, with low income students. We have things like our EOP program. These are all examples of the outreach – Maybe the best examples are what we do with Compact for Success in the South Bay or the collaborative in City Heights. I don’t have a breakdown for Imperial Valley but my suspicion is that the breakdown would be more or less proportional.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call, Vivian. And, President Weber, there’s a rumor you’re retiring following the twenty…

WEBER: Yes, my wife started that rumor. And I – Susan and I will be retiring in June of 2011.

CAVANAUGH: What is the vision that you want to leave for SDSU as it moves into the future?

WEBER: Well, it would be presumptuous for me to leave a vision for SDSU…


WEBER: …because it needs to move into the future and there’s something good and salutary and healthy about a change in leadership. When I came here, I didn’t want to impose a vision on the university, so we set aside almost a year to think together about what our values were. We called that shared vision and in my sense, that served us all very well. And, in effect, the campus gave me my marching orders, so to speak, and it’s kept me busy for the last thirteen and a half years and it will keep me busy for the next sixteen months.

CAVANAUGH: President Weber, there’s been a lot made about your commitment to SDSU athletics, especially its long-struggling football team. Do you think your successor will share your commitment to Division One football at SDSU?

WEBER: I think so because my successor will be appointed by the board of trustees of the system and by the chancellor, and the chancellor is very supportive of athletics. But let me just say a word about why I think athletics is so important. The point of a university is human growth and development. That’s the business that we’re in, so to speak, that’s what we do. And there are lots of ways in which we can encourage human growth and development beyond the wonderful work that we do in classrooms and laboratories. Athletics is one venue for that but there are lots of other venues. We just had a wonderful student research symposium on campus this past weekend with almost 450 students participating in it, standing up, putting their work before judges, competing to do this. These are all opportunities for growth and development. There’s nothing magical about athletics as opposed to international travel, that’s another wonderful example of human growth and development that we’re very proud of at San Diego State.

CAVANAUGH: And what can you tell us about the new SDSU Athletic Director, Jim Sterk?

WEBER: Well, first of all, he is – he’s going to be here in about ten days, full time; he’s finishing up his work at Washington State. He’s a wonderful person. His name is Jim Sterk. He’s been the sitting AD at Washington State for the last ten years. Before that, he was athletic director at Portland State. There’s an award for the most exemplary athletic programs in the country awarded by athletic directors and Washington State won it under his leadership.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Keep our fingers crossed. Now, as I said, President Weber, March is SDSU Month. What’s the motivation behind this month long event?

WEBER: We just want to throw a birthday party…


WEBER: …for ourselves. We’re going to be 113 years old and we’re still spry because we keep getting these wonderful new students into San Diego State every year. This is a remarkable campus, formed in 1897, the first institution of higher education in San Diego, the largest. It has had a huge impact on the growth and development of San Diego. We have now over 200,000 living alums, half of whom are basically in the San Diego region. We’ve done wonderful things that I know. One of them, I believe, one of them you’re going to talk about soon and that is women’s studies.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

WEBER: Here’s a great example. San Diego State was the first university in the country to develop a women’s studies program. I mean, it’s – that’s the sort of thing that, at the end of the day, the satisfaction comes when you can push the envelope and you can do things that nobody else has done. That took an immense about of courage and leadership on the – on behalf of women that cared about women’s studies at San Diego State. There was a time when women’s studies was not looked upon as a legitimate discipline, so to speak. That’s been the history of education forever. There was a time when modern languages were not looked upon as legitimate disciplines, only Greek and Latin were real languages. Part of what’s wonderful about universities is they change and they evolve and they grow. So that’s what we’re celebrating at San Diego State and we’re going to have our open house on March 20th. We’re going to invite thousands of people on campus. We hope your listeners will come. It’s a wonderful time. I particularly love to see families with young people walking around campus because it’s a great opportunity to just – just to introduce kids to universities because I hope that they’ll be able to enroll either at San Diego State or another university as they grow up.

CAVANAUGH: I’d like to sneak in one more phone call, if I can. Emanuel is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Emanuel. Welcome to These Days.

EMANUEL (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thank you. Yeah, my question is for President Weber. First, I’m a SDSU alumni and I loved my time there so…

WEBER: Glad to hear that.

EMANUEL: …thank you for that. And my question is, I work now with high school students and I’ve learned that now they have to apply directly to a major to – when applying to the school. And I just want to know your feelings about that. What would you say to some – you know, because we feel – when we hear that, we go, well, there seems to be some flaws in that in that, you know, a lot of – there’s a lot of great majors and programs at the university but a student coming out of high school, you know, doesn’t know about them just yet, you know, is too young. I know I studied sociology and religious studies but coming out of high school, I had no idea that’s what I wanted to do.


EMANUEL: So I just wanted to know your feelings on like what are the pros about it, why is it, you know, being implemented.

WEBER: Well, it’s being implemented as one of the ways to control our enrollment. There is a category called undeclared so students – it doesn’t follow that you have to come in as a sociology major or a philosophy major or whatever else. But you’re right that part of what happens at a university is through general education we encourage students to explore disciplines that they might not have encountered in high school. And the historic averages across the country are that about 50% of the students won’t really know what they want to do when they come in, and of the 50% that know, half of them will change their minds.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Yes, I can see that. And I want to ask you quickly, finally, if I can, President Weber, to give us an update on the development projects at SDSU. I – And it’s unfair, I guess, to ask you so quickly but with all the budget problems and so forth, are – is the campus going to keep changing…


CAVANAUGH: …its appearance?

WEBER: It is. We – Remember we passed – the trustees approved our master plan about two years ago. That’s a 20-year plan for the growth and development of our campus. That plan is there. What’s happened, though, of course, is at the moment the State of California doesn’t have the resources necessary to pursue that plan. But the plan is still there and the economy of California will turn around. I think the two things I would say is, first, as it turns around we’ll have more students coming to San Diego State and the physical plant – the state will have the resources to expand the physical plant. The challenge right now is because there are going to be fewer students in California’s universities, there are going to be fewer graduates to fuel the turnaround of our economy. That’s why this is such a terrible – a terrible turn of events for the citizens of California because we are literally eating our own seed corn, would be the Midwestern expression for it. That is, we are not investing in our own future and it will cost us in our ability to move forward quickly when the economy begins to turn around.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for coming in and speaking with us today. Thank you, President Weber.

WEBER: My pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with San Diego State University president Stephen Weber. And I want to let you know again open house on campus for SDSU Month is March 20th, and KPBS will be taking part in that big Explore SDSU Day. And if you’d like to comment about anything you’ve heard here during this segment or anything you hear on These Days, you can go online, Coming up, as we said, SDSU’s Women’s Studies Department celebrates its 40th anniversary. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.